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Atmospheric chemistry of oxidised nitrogen compounds and their role in air pollution (CENTA2-CHEM3-BAL1)

Project Description

Air pollution is responsible for around 400,000 premature deaths per year in Europe [1] and 6.5 million globally [2]. In the UK and in Europe, the three most toxic air pollutants are NO2 (nitrogen dioxide), O3 (ozone) and PM (particulate matter). The majority of NO2 comes from emissions from road vehicles: much legislative effort has been put into controlling such emissions, and NO2 levels are now decreasing in many European cities [1]. Tropospheric ozone is harder to control because it is a secondary air pollutant generated within the atmosphere by photochemical processes involving volatile organic compounds and NO2 – this chemistry forming O3 provides a double-incentive for controlling NO2 concentrations.

DEFRA (Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) has over 100 air monitoring sites around the UK within the AURN network [3]. Additionally, UK Research & Innovation, through its Clean Air Programme, has funded three additional “NERC supersites” containing more extensive instrumentation for monitoring atmospheric species than is available at regular AURN sites. The Clean Air Programme has further designated two “intensive observing periods” in 2021 to bring additional research groups to the supersites to measure an extensive suite of atmospheric trace gases and aerosol particles [4]. This represents a unique opportunity for the UK’s atmospheric chemists to assess what improvements are being made to the country’s air quality.

The PhD project will deploy a research instrument to measure NO3 radicals and their reservoir compound N2O5 at Birmingham University’s supersite during the intensive observing periods. NO3 radicals are formed at night [5] from the reaction of NO2 with O3, and N2O5 is formed when NO3 reacts further with NO2. Reaction with NO3 radicals starts the oxidation of various volatile organic compounds (VOC), and this chemistry ultimately leads to the removal of VOCs from the atmosphere. N2O5 reacts with liquid water on aerosol particles, forming nitric acid. This acts as a sink of N2O5 and thus it is an important mechanism for removing NO2 from the atmosphere, restricting the capacity of NO2 to generate tropospheric ozone the next day.

Further Reading:

[1] “Air quality in Europe – 2018 report”, European Environment Agency (2018),

[2] The Lancet Commission on pollution and health, P.J. Landrigan et al., (2018) vol 391, issue 10119, pages 462-512,

[3] Automatic Urban and Rural Network (AURN),

[4] Clean Air Programme,

[5] Atmospheric chemistry at night, S.M. Ball, (2014),

[6] A broadband absorption spectrometer using light emitting diodes for ultrasensitive, in situ trace gas detection, J.M. Langridge et al., (2008), Rev. Sci. Instrum. 79, 123110,

[7] Manchester aerosol chamber:

Entry Requirements:

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.

Available for UK and EU applicants only

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility:

How to Apply:

Please follow refer to the How to Apply section at and use the Chemistry Apply button to submit your PhD application.

Upload your CENTA Studentship Form in the proposal section of the application form.

In the funding section of the application please indicate you wish to be considered for NERC CENTA Studentship.

Under the proposal section please provide the name of the supervisor and project title/project code you want to apply for.

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number of fully funded studentships available to the best UK and EU candidates available as part of the NERC DTP CENTA consortium.

For more details of the CENTA consortium please see the CENTA website: View Website.

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility: View Website

The studentship includes a 3.5 year tuition fee waiver at UK/EU rates

An annual tax free stipend (For 2019/20 this is currently £15,009)

Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) of £8,000.

Related Subjects

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